Just as with film, the gaming industry is rife with game remakes of older classics. Driven by nostalgia and a desire to relive our favorite experiences, we are willing to dish out cash for what unfortunately can sometimes amount to only a slight graphical polish and, if lucky, a few new features.
If the Secret of Mana remake demonstrated anything, it is that while the heart of an older title can keep it alive even as its graphics and gameplay age, poorly executed game remakes can make any flaws a good title had stand out more. With the remake of one of my favorite survival horror titles on the horizon, Resident Evil 2, I think now is the appropriate time to discuss what fans expect from game remakes and, more importantly, what studios need to focus on when recreating a classic.
Are you listening, Capcom? What about you, Square Enix?
Burn the chaff, save the wheat
I specifically chose not to say, “out with the old, in with the new,” because sometimes old ideas are good ideas and need to remain in the game. It has to be a more granular process of determining what is good from what is bad or what needs to be improved. In that way, it is much like separating the edible wheat kernels from the inedible chaff. Leave too much of the chaff with the kernels, and you lessen the quality of the flour. Likewise, remove too much of what made the game excellent, or leave too much of what could now be improved, and you might end up spoiling the whole.
The Secret of Mana remake did a poor job of separating the wheat from the chaff when it came to gameplay. For example, Square chose to remove the older grid-based AI system to replace it with a stylish, new and shiny simplified version. Is it more modern, yes, but why dumb something down when the original offered a bit more depth to an otherwise rather simple battle system?
The process of deciding what to keep and what to remove is not always a simple choice and sometimes requires defining what specific aspects of a control scheme, battle system, or even storyline can be carefully cut away, but without damaging the rest.
Adding the over-the-shoulder combat control scheme from Resident Evil 4 to the RE2 remake is a great idea. The original controls not only slowed combat but made you feel like you were controlling a tank instead of a person. The ability to blockade areas is another clever addition we haven’t seen before in an RE title.
Thankfully, Capcom has stated they are keeping the slower, spookier feel of the original. After all, fear is at the heart of survival horror. Just like story is at the heart of a good RPG. Though, failing to remove the chaff can make the wheat hard to digest, failing to maintain the heart of a classic will sour the whole faster than anything.